Tuesday, December 11, 2018

SHA slashes River Road speed limit without public input, violates safety protocols

Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane would be proud
of how the MoCo cartel and SHA replaced
45 MPH speed limits signs with these new
35 MPH signs in the dead of night without
informing the public
After stealing the 2018 election in Montgomery County, the County political cartel has displayed an openly-authoritarian streak. In addition to moving swiftly on publicly-unpopular cartel priorities such as profiting the developer sugar daddies who funded their campaigns, officials are quietly attempting to implement new candidate filing requirements that would discourage progressive Democrats and minority party candidates from challenging them in future elections. But the only move that's attracted the attention of the general public so far took place late last week on River Road.

Under pressure from local officials, the Maryland State Highway Administration arbitrarily reduced the speed limit along River Road from 45 MPH to 35 MPH between Springfield Drive and the Capital Beltway. In doing so, the SHA not only made clear it has fully transitioned from a professional traffic engineering-driven department to a fully political office, but also illegally sidestepped the public process and safety protocols required for such a change.

Not a single SHA-sponsored public meeting was held on a proposal to reduce the speed limit to 35 MPH for the entire stretch between the Beltway and Westbard. That proposal was never even floated to the public. There had been discussions of either lowering the speed limit or installing speed cameras only near the River and Braeburn Parkway intersection, where three people died in a collision caused by a westbound driver who was going more than double the 45 MPH speed limit, at several public meetings hosted by members of the community near Whitman - not by the SHA.

The public was not privy to whatever discussions transpired privately over the last few weeks between local officials and the SHA. In fact, the SHA hasn't done squat yet on the actual project it had proposed for the intersection in question. So much for concern about safety.

Instead, the cartel and SHA went out late last week and pulled something out of Boss Hogg's Dukes of Hazzard playbook: quietly yanking out the 45 MPH signs and replacing them with 35 MPH signs - without telling anyone!

Traffic engineering protocols require that drivers be alerted to such a change, in advance and at the start of enforcement, via digital or traditional signage. Instead, the power grab appears to also be a money grab. Readers have reported that police are already pulling over and ticketing drivers in the new 35 MPH zone. Such tickets could be challenged in court because of the SHA's illegal, hazardous and reckless actions.

In addition, that stretch of River Road is engineered for a speed limit of at least 45 or 50 MPH. It is a divided highway with few cross streets west of Whittier Boulevard to the Beltway. Because of the design, much like the Palisades speed trap on MacArthur Boulevard in the District, it is very difficult to maintain 35 MPH (except during rush hour, in which one is often lucky to attain 35 along there). So it's a clear money grab for the County to place an artificially-low speed limit on that route, aiming to take longtime drivers who know the limit is 45 by surprise.

We expect this type of behavior from the Montgomery County cartel, in their developer-driven War on Cars and War on Pedestrians (in downtown Bethesda). But the SHA has brought shame to itself and Governor Hogan with this dangerous action on River Road. We expect SHA, like the old MCDOT before developers seized control of the department, to be professional arbiters who make judgments based on sound traffic engineering principles - not political favors.

Not surprisingly, the SHA declined to respond to inquiries made around 7:00 AM Monday morning regarding its violation of process and safety protocols on River Road. It has only commented publicly to media outlets that have not questioned them on those violations. I hope they'll respond today, and I will print their response should they provide one. For now, we are entering a dangerous time in Montgomery County and Maryland, where a wealthy and corrupt few have hijacked our public institutions, and have cut the taxpaying public entirely out of the very processes our community and society are based upon.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Utility work continues in Woodmont Triangle (Video + Photos)

Lane closures and nighttime noise continue as the WSSC replaces its outdated water mains around the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood of downtown Bethesda. Last night, they were on Cordell Avenue and Woodmont Avenue.

Noise waiver issued for early morning concrete pour at 7900 Wisconsin Avenue Wednesday

A major concrete pour at JBG Smith's 7900 Wisconsin Avenue development will require early work hours this Wednesday, December 12, 2018, from 4:00 AM to 7:00 PM. A spokesman for contractor Schuster Construction says the primary sources of noise will be "heavy duty trucks and small tools."

The contractor's crew will try to reduce the noise as much as possible by using their radios instead of shouting, and by muffling the back-up warning alarms on the trucks. Unfortunately, they say that the 7900 Wisconsin site requires the trucks participating in the pour to go into reverse at least once.

Residents of Fairmont Plaza, 7770 Norfolk and - to a lesser extent - the Bainbridge Bethesda and The Whitney are the most likely to be affected by the noise prior to 7:00 AM Wednesday. I can say that I previously had heard this pour might take the whole night, so starting at 4:00 is at least a significant improvement over that scenario.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Bethesda renovation update: Lenore Winters Studio

The renovation of the Lenore Winters Studio at 4911 Cordell Avenue has taken longer than expected. But here's a look at the progress this fall. The paper has been removed from the windows, so it looks like they are nearing completion. LWS is an interior design firm.

Marriott HQ excavators broke a Woodmont Grill water line

The development team building the relocated Marriott International headquarters at 7750 Wisconsin Avenue acknowledge that their excavators broke a water line leading into Woodmont Grill, a restaurant adjacent to their construction site. Marriott HQ representatives say the water line was "previously unknown" to them, until it was ruptured during digging. They arranged to fix the broken water line overnight last night.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Bethesda construction update: 7272 Wisconsin Avenue (Photos)

Here are some scenes from a recent concrete pour for The Wilson office tower, part of Carr Properties' massive 7272 Wisconsin Avenue development. I've also included some daytime photos of the construction, which so far has been largely centered on the Purple Line station and infrastructure that will be underneath the office and residential development above.

Redwood signage removed at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Nearly a year after Redwood made one of the most drawn-out and theatrical exits in Bethesda restaurant history, signage has finally been removed from the facade of their vacant space at 7121 Bethesda Lane. The empty restaurant is being offered for lease as multiple smaller units, making it unlikely that another sit-down restaurant will take its place.

Major dining tenants Redwood and Lebanese Taverna both closed following the loss of the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 to the Purple Line. Along with huge spikes in the number of available parking spaces in garages around Bethesda Row, the closures vindicate my prediction that the Montgomery County Council and Planning Board's intentional decision to not require the Apex Building developer to provide a replacement cineplex would devastate nearby restaurants that relied on "dinner-and-a-movie" customers. Such customers have relocated to other towns that actually have cineplexes showing the latest blockbuster movies.

You can't blame the closures on the businesses themselves - remember, both Redwood and Lebanese Taverna lasted for years and years in those spaces...until the Regal was demolished. I testified before both bodies about the importance of a cineplex for downtown businesses. Neither paid attention to the actual statistics I presented. What an embarrassment for our developer-controlled Council and Planning Board, and their friends in the Montgomery County cartel and at the Washington Post! The Bethesda business downturn has shown them to be, well, not the sharpest tools in the drawer.

Just tools.

Friday, December 07, 2018

WSSC work on Cordell Avenue (Video + Photos)

A WSSC crew was working on Cordell Avenue in front of Flanagan's Harp and Fiddle last night. Be prepared for similar lane closures in the Woodmont Triangle, as the utility continues to replace outdated water mains in the area.

Sneak peek: Philz Coffee at Bethesda Row (Photos)

Construction has taken a long time, but here's the first look at the interior of Philz Coffee at Bethesda Row on Woodmont Avenue. Flooring, walls, light fixtures, counters and refrigerated cases are all in place. It looks like more of the seating and tables remain to be added.